Cover novel Under the Ulala Trees Chinelo Okparanta
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March 1, 2022
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Love under the Ulala trees: discover Chinelo Okparanta’s touching novel

Some books manage to intertwine a range of difficult topics with delicateness. Under the Ulala Trees is one of them.

Chinelo Okparanta’s first novel takes us to Ojoto, in Nigeria, in 1968. The Biafran conflict, the destructive civil war, ended just a year ago. We’re put in the feet of Ijeoma, a Christian Igbo that lost her father to the war. She’s sent by her mother to be a house-help, where she meets Amina under a Ulala tree. Their friendship quickly evolved to passion, and a secret love story unfurls as they are both working in the same house.

‘Our bodies being touched by the fire that was each other’s flesh … Tingly and good and like everything perfect in the world.’ - Chinelo Okparanta

Once their relationship is discovered, Ijeoma is sent back to her mother, where she is forced to follow Bible studies and struggles with her expectations. As the narrator recollects her memories, we follow her life after the Ulala Tree. A life that is torn between the dread of disappointing her mother and the need to discover spaces where it is safe to love.

The historical fiction stands out with its incorporation of Nigerian folklore, which recalls the war stories that would be passed on in the country. But if war is a constant frame, coming-of-age and coming to terms with your sexuality are the main themes.

It is not the first time that Okparanta puts words on the lives of queer people in Nigeria. Her collection of short stories, ‘Happiness, Like Water’, narrates the stories of gay and lesbian Nigerians in Nigeria and America. In Under the Ulala Trees, Okparanta wanted to focus on Nigeria alone, to tell an inner story, without the West as a figure. Hope is a keyword for this novel: a hope for change within the Nigerian society, a hope for religion to evolve with social changes, and not against it.

Okparanta is coming out with a new book in 2022 that we cannot wait to discover. While waiting for the new release, immerse yourself in her beautiful writing with 'Under the Ulala trees!'

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